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Editorials

Graduate Student Union Strike Authorization is a Warning Alarm

By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

On Sept. 30, Harvard’s graduate student union created the sketch for a new picket line to be drawn through Harvard’s campus, announcing that its members overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. This strike authorization, which comes not two years after the union’s consequential late-2019 strike, was preceded by nearly six months of negotiation with the University over a second contract.

Should Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers choose to strike, we will support them, as we have already promised. However, we hope that the situation does not come to that.

A strike would be extremely disruptive to College students’ education, and to the operations of the University as a whole. Some of us remember having limited opportunities for office hours and receiving delayed grades during the 2019 strike, which kindly hadn’t even started until classes were already over. At the time, even mail delivery to the University was disrupted. These inconveniences caused by a strike are a testament to the centrality of graduate students to a functioning university. Harvard should take this strike authorization as a serious warning sign, and work quickly towards achieving a contract.

In working towards a strong solution, there are still considerable disagreements that need to be resolved. For instance, the University has not yet conceded to HGSU-UAW’s call to allow third-party arbitration of discrimination and sexual harassment complaints. This refusal becomes part of a worrying trend when we consider how other unions on campus, such as the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, have allegedly had trouble getting the University to honor prior agreements about third-party mediation.

HGSU-UAW is also asking for further increases in compensation and benefits. This call for higher wages emerges as particularly important during a time in which the cost of living in Cambridge continues to surge. It is necessary that graduate students’ pay reflects these increases.

We must remember that teachers’ working conditions — or in this case, teaching fellows’ working conditions — are students’ learning conditions. How we treat our graduate student workers will be reflected in how they can approach their research and classroom responsibilities: We must be generous.

Despite the points of disagreement, there is reason to be hopeful: For the next few weeks, HGSU-UAW will continue to negotiate with the University through a federal mediator. This is a sign that these negotiations are being taken seriously, and perhaps, through these efforts, a contract favorable to all will be reached without necessitating a strike. After all, the introduction of such a mediator is what changed the tides two years ago.

The possibility of two strikes within two years is indicative of the national and ongoing fundamental restructuring of the relationship between graduate students and their universities. We must situate the developments here amidst a broader movement towards recognizing the labor rights of graduate students across higher education. Just last month, MIT’s graduate students officially announced their unionization, joining the ranks of graduate students at other universities like New York University, Columbia University, and Brown University in their calls for basic protections like comparable healthcare benefits, fair pay, and protections from sexual harassment and discrimination.

Forging this new path has been rocky, but exciting given its prospects for the empowerment and betterment of the lives of graduate student workers. Here at home, our own graduate students are carrying the spirit of this larger movement, growing louder, bolder, and rightfully more impatient.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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